Languages and cultures - Sample Essay
B/ A ‘monstrous weed’, reaching out and strangling all other indigenous languages and cultures in its path. An attempt at a full discussion of this title can only ever take place on a superficial level if it is to be confined to the usual word limit of an essay. In order to understand the role ,,of the English language in the world today and its possibilities in the future, then we must look to the past to examine critically how it has developed. We will be returning to the forces which cause language to shift, change and develop: the social; economic; political and the technological.
In linguistic terms, it is really helpful if we try to see these forces both diachronically and synchronically. I believe that we will ultimately see that the majority of these forces and factors are out of the control of one nation; that occasionally, world councils or organisations have a go at manipulating language development but 1 am convinced that such attempts are, in the end, futile. Language seems to grow and develop in an autonomous way, pulled about by an array forces. There are deliberate uses through marketing and advertising but the eventual consequences are rarely considered or predicted.
Language development is a bit like chaos theory in this respect: a satellite dish… an advert… a TV programme… a pop singer in a range of countries and suddenly new films of language occur – no one has consciously set out to create them, they just happen. Like many late 20th century debates, this essay title has no glib or black and white answer. I agree with David Graddol’s conclusion, that it really depends on your point of view. The English language is simultaneously, ” making the world a more homogenous place and it is making English more diverse in its forms, functions and cultural associations.
” [p216]. While English is part of the decline of other languages; economic globalisation is perhaps the. real threat to other cultures and languages. It will also be seen that English does have a positive effect too – but ! will explain these ideas later. My discussion will be split into three parts: an analysis of the factors causing the English language to spread alongside a global culture; a discussion as to whether or not English poses a threat to other languages and cultures and, finally, seeing in what ways English is both becoming homogenous and diverse.
Non-linguists understandably have a more synchronic awareness of English language growth and development and will see real spread as caused mainly by the events of this century. I think that we have to go back a little further. lf we look at the European Renaissance and the beginning of people’s attempts to understand and shape their world, we can see that the Latin language was on the wane, perceived to be an elitist language of power unsuitable for new areas of knowledge. The search was on for a unifying universal language and English was considered because. ironically, it was thought to be marginal and would remain so.
Texts of ,the time are a testament to this view: “An essay towards a Real Character and a Philosphical Language,” 1668, John Wilkins. Our diachronic gaze will also reveal that French was assuming dominance in Europe until the momentous events of the French revolution and the British industrial revolution. It is moot at this point to leap forward to the present and consider the words of David Crystal on the OU video number eight, who emphasises power saying that, “Language is on its way to becoming a world force when it follows the economic, social, cultural, political and military fortunes of its mother country….
English found itself in the right place at the right time. ” This serendipitous feature of English globalisation is apparent time and again. Concomitant with the economic growth of Britain was its colonial expansion which is the feature that contemporary onlookers are most aware. They will not be aware, however, of the existence of the International Auxiliary Language movement which recognised the need for an international lingua franca which did not culturally or economically privilege one country. Many artificial languages were deliberately invented between 1850 and 1914 but the movement fizzled out after W.
W. 1. because English had de facto become the international lingua franca. Just like the grammarians and purists whose attempts to constrain and shape individual languages had proved futile, so too, it had proved impossible to shape and direct an international and world lingua franca even though it might be pro bono publico – economic factors, free market forces are much more influential. Logically, there was every reason to adopt the much more simple artificial languages [C. K Ogden’ s Basic English with a vocabulary of 850 words] or even French which has a smaller vocabulary.
Graddol emphasises the significance of the growth of the railway and the telegraph in the spread of English: By 1910, the British Empire was covering one fifth of the land surface of the world and it was connected by both railway and telegraph – English was the language of the telegraph recognised by European countries. Certainly from the point of view of the imperialist Briton, the world in the early 20th century was increasingly unified serving and enhancing British interests. Graddol attributes English language dominance in the main to this technological factor, “Those who controlled the telegraph effectively controlled the world.
” [p. 209] From the telegraph, the next step was the radio, the television and finally the internet. The early medium of radio was seen and used to broadcast and unify the empire. There is. presently a 35 million audience of the BBC World Service alone. With television, Britain was no longer acting alone; the USA was a developing politically and economically this century; gone was its isolationist policy and the rest of the world was seen as a potential market on the one hand and, post second world war, in need of American style democracy to avoid the perceived spread of communism.
The English language, therefore was given added impetus and spread: Korea and the Far East as well as through the US media. The US dominance of the internet and computer software/hardware has also meant that English is the dominant language of the internet. On the OU video there are scenes in Bombay, India, described as the centre of computer/internet information and administration; 80% of the world’s electronically stored information is in English. The ‘One World Online’ centre at Chinnor, England rationalises this dominance: in order to communicate globally it is necessary to have a language all can have access to and understand.
Crystal concurs saying, ‘Every new bit of information technology produces a new way of using English: that’s the nature of the beast. ” [OU video programme, “English, English Everywhere. “] In the late 1980’s when the Berlin wall came down-there was a large amount of people who wanted access to a developing economy. ‘English 2000’ is a project headed by the British Council reassessing the role of the language at the end of the century: they say that English is the perceived language with any currency to the institutions of Europe.
Finally, for this section, I will conclude by saying that one of the most powerful factors of language change is – and always been- geographical: people moving about from country to country. Over the last two centuries there have been two English-speaking world powers doing just that. Simultaneously, there have been other smaller developing nations as a result of post-colonial independence; they have chosen the language of economic dominance. Stuart Hall astutely said, “This is the century of migration; every migration is a culture clash and every culture clash a language clash, therefore new forms emerge.
” [OU video IBID] This takes me into my next area of discussion: the threat to other languages and cultures. Diachronically, we can see that the English language was taken to other parts of the world; it became the currency of wealth and economic growth. In the West Indies African slaves were not allowed to use their own languages to suppress possible rebellion. A Creole, the nation language of the West Indies was the result. Generations of Africans were starved of their culture and roots deliberately.
Stuart Hall talks about his 1950’s education in Harrison College, Jamaica. Many schools in the Caribbean were established by the British throughout the empire: spreading British culture and language. Hall talks of an alien experience of learning Wordsworth and told nothing about their slave history. This same experience was repeated in India and Australia. The loss of culture and language by native Tasmanians was attributed to English as a destructive tool while Reading A, RMW Dixon, says that an ‘English only’ policy was many factors causing a decline.
Here is the paradox however. It is far too easy to simply believe that this has all been the fault of an aggressive imperialist policy. I would suggest that it smacks more of a Darwinian development: peoples want to survive and succeed. Dixon talks about other factors: the Aboriginol choice to thrive in a European culture; when being bilingual saw an obvious decline in native use and constant media pressure: Whatever, English is present and indigenous languages decline. It does depend on the status of the language in the hierarchical system.
A glance at the chart on the next page shows how an established nation like India has suffered the presence of English – indeed, uses it administratively and for economic purposes but continues with its own vast array of internal languages and cultural traditions. In video no. 6, An English Education, we can see evidence of a region within India – who speak Kannadda – they are determined to preserve their identity and culture while at the same time recognise the usefulness of English economically and politically. In terms of developing nations, it does depend on size to ‘live’ with English.
The Reading B, regarding Papua New Guinea, analyses the effect of an English only policy and how the use of English educationally has shaped society. It concludes that [again] it is linked to the economic system; the native population has been alienated and damage has been sustained to the language and culture of Papua New Guinea: even those elite groups have been deprived of their identity and ease within their culture. The Canadian Inuit on video 8 talk about feeling pulled both ways, wanting to retain the flavour of their own language and culture -which they see as a unifying bond – and learning English to be a bit modern.
Reading E examines the effect of English through television and concludes that, “Many Swedish children find it perfectly natural to watch television in English in 100 years’ time will Swedish still be spoken ? ” [ p. 214]. Research into dubbing of English into Italian television has shown an effect in terms of morphology and word order as well as cultural lifestyles and expectations. In Germany, Ulrika Meinhof discusses the effect of commercials and argues that German society has been permeated by English names, phrases and idioms. She emphasises that it is U. S. English rather than U. K. English.
The Germans feel that if they did not speak English then they would be missing out on something. People want access and see English as the vehicle to ‘somewhere good’. Interestingly, France has always tried to keep a distance with its ‘Academie’ protecting the purity of French and banning the use of English words and phrases like ‘le weekend’. There is obviously a perceived threat to French culture and language. On the other hand, there are instances of other languages growing in the face of the ‘imperialist’ English: the establishment of Bahasa Malaysia as the new national language ……
I’m not convinced; it seems more like a reassertion of linguistic and cultural values against the eventual tide of English. There are other cultures and languages out there which have to be considered: Mandarin and Chinese. Who knows exactly what is going to happen in this Eastern economy – if it spreads and opens up completely then the most natively spoken language in the world might well gain a dominant position. Then there is research which has shown that it is not English which displaces local languages but other ones in the hierarchical structure – but still implicating English through economic modernisation.
In the last part of my essay I look at homogenous or diverse nature of the global spread of English. This can be readily understood in two parts. Internally, the United Kingdom has shown itself to be a diverse range of dialects and accents in the face of establishment pressure, to conform to a standard; the media of radio, tv and U. S film has not crushed this diversity. On video no. 8, Ben Rampton reveals his research about English in England. He attached radio microphones to school children to tape what and how they spoke throughout their day.
His results showed that there was not a single style of English but their language was s ‘peppered’ with a whole host of different ways of speaking: Creole; Asian; Scots and Cockney. In a detention scene, after a teacher her left the room, one student turned to another and spoke a Creole phrase ‘to boost his self image’ according to Rampton. Within London, there exists the traditional Cockney; Estuary – modified London accent and dialect -Received Pronunciation and a range of other accents and dialects brought about by the immigration of peoples – Asian; Afro-Caribbean; Chinese; Jews; European ……
On an international scale, I would argue that a similar situation exists. If we look at the Caribbean, at the same time as a culture and language was suppressed, then a fragmented form of English took root taking with it rhythms and sounds of Africa: a Jamaican Creole grew and we heard a little when Louis Bennett read an extract of her poetry, Back to Africa, Miss Mattie? You no know wha you dah seh ? You haf fe come from somewhe fus Before you go back deh ! [Back to Africa] There is an exciting and vibrant language in the West Indies which has its roots in English.
We do not have to always look across the Atlantic to find it: it also exists in urban areas of Britain where ethnic minorities react against the standard in an attempt to establish an identity. The same phenomena occurs in the US. In New York, not only is there a Black vernacular recently termed ‘Ebonics’ but there is also the growth of another mutated form of English: ‘Spanglish’ – a combination of Spanish and English. Speakers of Spanish already make up 11% of the United States.
Within the U. S. there is also a range of dialects and accents: the Texan drawl and the Brooklyn ‘Cockney’. In India, there are many types of English spoken too; the Tamil use of ‘only’ at the end of sentences is reflected in TV broadcasts. there is also the growth of ‘Hinglish’ too – a blend of Hindi and English. David Crystal says that there is little danger of monolithic ‘English’ dominating world culture; at the moment U. S. English is the dominant form, not U. K. English – but even this will be eclipsed by a global English in the future.